Well, I did have a review that I was going to finish up but then I got distracted by,, food! A friend of mine sent me for my birthday a set of two of these new microwave dishes that I am sure you’ve seen advertised on the interwebs: they have lids with silicone seals and can go from icebox to microwave and back and are guaranteed to, blah,blah,blah. Well, these actually delivered! They microwave veggies to perfection and will heat up that Trader Joe’s Fried Rice (don’t judge) just as well.
But the real food distractions were the return of two beloved LA/WeHo food purveyors, one of which you have seen and one of which you might not have: Tail O’ the Pup and Irv’s.
Tail O’ was a Los Angeles Icon, it’s iconic hot-dog shape appearing in television and movies for decades: In the “Rockford Files” pilot Jim Rockford stops by for a dog with a client/suspect. Jake Scully stops by to buy his (he will find out later) cheating girlfriend hot dogs in “Body Double” and he whole dog can be seen being airlifted over the LA Basin in “LA Story.” The stand itself first stood near the corner of La Cienega and Beverly in Los Angeles before being displaced in the 80’s for the wholly unnecessary Hotel Sofitel, landing around the corner on San Vicente just north of Beverly. That was the location where I used to go at least twice a month, usually with my friend Lynn. Lynn was chronically late and therefore missed out on the best star sighting I’ve ever had: Ella Fitzgerald. She was delicately munching an extreme dog, careful not to get any on her Chanel suit, before being whisked away in her Mercedes Landaulet limo by her uniformed chauffeur. Sadly, Cedars Sinai (the hospital who owned the lot) had plans to develop the parcel and the Dog went into storage for years. The then owners died, the hot dog briefly became part of the Valley Relics museum and people from LA Mayoral candidate Rick Caruso and then BH Mayor John Mirisch tried to find space for it. It wasn’t until the 1933 Group (previous saviors of the Formosa Cafe seen in “LA Confidential”) came along and put it up on Santa Monica just west of La Cienega that if found a (it’s to be hoped) permanent home. In a bit of history meeting history, it’s now on the front of a building that the Doors were using as an office and record “LA Woman.”
So, is it the same? It still has some of the same menu (albeit pricier, but what isn’t 20 years later?) but I’d honestly have to say “no.” It’s glitzier, a little more precious, and more corporate. But that’s churlish whining: it never could be anything like it was in 2000 and I am sure that there were people in 2000 who lamented the Tail o’ they loved from 1980, 1960, or 1946 when it opened. I’m very glad that it’s there for a new generation to gobble down hot dogs and perhaps have a legendary star sighting they’ll want to share.
Less well known, but arguably just as beloved was Irv’s Burgers. Irv’s was opened in 1946 (a good year for fast food in West Hollywood..) as Queen’s at the Northeast corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Sweetzer Avenue, about a mile from Tail O’s original location. In 1970 it changed it’s name to Irv’s for the new owner, and served to the likes of Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, who’s office was a stroll down the boulevard. Irv’s really came into it’s own and into the heart of locals when it was taken over in the late 90’s by Sonia Hong and her family. She especially was famous for her friendliness and her hand-drawn cartoons of the customers on the napkins and to go bags with the legend “Just for You.” The tiny stand took up a small corner of the lot; the rest was a small car repair place.
Time and progress of course put an end to that and eventually the lot was developed into a completely silly concept restaurant called Beach Nation, who’s gimmick was filling the parking lot with sand. Because, beach. Or more likely cat box, but nobody asks me these things. Irv’s was forced out and moved to a location down the street where they stayed for several years. The elder Mr. Hong eventually died and Mrs Hong decided to retire so after a tearful goodbye, in 2018 Irv’s closed. But Sonia wasn’t through. I saw her on the street a few months after the closing and she told me she was now working at Hamburger Mary’s, sadly from what I could tell not making the burgers, since they were awful. After the pandemic and to the surprise of everyone I knew, it was announces that Irv’s would reopen in a smaller space next to the (still unrented) space they used to occupy. Sonia was partnering with the founder of the app Off The Menu and restauranteur Armen Piskoulian of Oui Melrose to bring back Irv’s with a few additions to the menu, all of the old standards, and her own inimitable flair.
So, once again, is it the same? Well, pretty much. The burgers are still just about the best you’re going to get in a 10 mile radius and not pay
what you would for a used iPad. They’ve added a few things like salads and baked goods, but the main thing is that Sonia is there. She is, as always, a little dynamo. Efficiently running the kitchen, greeting customers old and new as friends, and yes, making sure you’re order is “just for you”
I can’t ask for more.
So if you’re in LA you have two stops near to ScentBar, Melrose Place and Rodeo Drive to stop and smell the hot dogs. Let me know when you’re coming and I’ll happily join you.
I’m sure you all have places in your towns that are long time favorites, whether they’re still going strong or just a memory. Please tell us about them in the comments, and remember, sometimes they come back..
Photos are mine except the photo of the San Vicente location of Tail O’. which is by Alan Taylor and is from Wikipedia Commons.